In yesterday’s post about Sony’s patent for a SmartWig I mentioned that we’ll have SmartEverythings soon, including a SmartBra. You may have thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t. And if you’re wondering who could be behind this push-up artificial intelligence, I’m betting you could guess it in three: Microsoft.
Unlike Sony’s SmartWig, the SmartBra thankfully won’t deliver an electric shock to notify wearers of incoming messages or calls. The SmartBra has a different goal—to prevent women from overeating. Wearing a bra plus food guilt! What could possibly be better? And they say that being a woman’s hard.
The SmartBra has sensors that monitor a woman’s heart rate, which in and of itself isn’t a bad idea, but isn’t that why heart rate monitors exist? Anyway, the monitoring of a heart rate isn’t about calculating the strenuousness of a workout so much as it is about tracking a woman’s moods, as emotional swings often trigger overeating. If the SmartBra identifies a risk—namely, that the wearer is about to devour a pint of Ben and Jerry’s—it will send a signal to the wearer’s smartphone that will warn the wearer to get her hand out of the cookie jar. There’s another reason to not get a smartphone.
I’ll admit that I find this insulting and sexist. I’m a grown up and I can handle making my own decisions about what to eat. Sure, I head for the chocolate when I’m stressed, but who doesn’t? It’s not just women who are susceptible to overeating—will there be a “bro” or “mansiere” version for men, or are they simply more capable of handling those urges? On the other hand, Microsoft’s product responds to research about the allure of comfort food and how stress, sadness, boredom and other emotions trigger overeating—the trend isn’t imagined. Microsoft scientists interviewed women who said it was helpful to be notified when their emotional state could lead to binging, as sometimes we tend to go on autopilot when we stuff our faces.
Microsoft chose a bra because it was an easy and comfortable (ha!) way to collect electrocardiogram data. It also measures electrodermal activity, or sweat. While a study of four women showed the bra to be effective in identifying the emotions of its wearers, the sensors only lasted 3-4 hours before they needed recharging. Microsoft admits that while they’re interested in being players in the wearable computing device market, the SmartBra has a long way to go before it ever becomes a viable commercial product. It seems like the published research and design for the SmartBra was a way for Microsoft to test the waters when it comes to the demand for and marketability of such wearable devices. I think I’ll go get a cookie and think about what a ridiculous idea this. I wonder if I’ll be able to eat just one.